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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Mestrovic and Job in Paris and Syracuse

Paris, France. Job  by Ivan Mestoric (1945) on view at the Musee Rodin.  Supplicant Persephone (1945) can be seen standing in the court in the bottom image.  All photos: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Mestrovic and Job in Paris and Syracuse

by Samuel D. Gruber

Visiting the Musee Rodin in  Paris a few weeks ago brought me face to face with an old friend - Ivan Mestrovic's agonized bronze statue of a crouching, suffering Job.  The work, completed in 1945 in Rome finalized a vision of Job that Mestrovic first conceived when in a fascist prison in Croatia in 1941.  Both Job and a companion piece of a Supplicant Persephone were exhibited at Mestrovic's one-man exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1947 (the first such show the Met had ever mounted for a living artist).  Today, the works face each other across a small courtyard at Syracuse University, where I pass them almost every day.  Both these works are presided over by a larger relief of Moses, a bronze made in 1990 from Mestrovic's plaster version designed for the un-built monument to the Six Million designed by architect Erich Mendelsohn, which was planned for Riverside Park in New York City but never built (more on that work in a future post).

Syracuse, NY. Job by Ivan Mestrovic (1945) in the Shaffer Sculpture Court outside of Bowne Hall. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.

Versions of Job and Persephone from the Ivan Meštrović Museums in Croatia were both installed in the Court of Honor at the Musee Rodin, as part of small but powerful exhibition of Mestrovic's work  coinciding with festival Croatie, la voici

Syracuse, NY. Supplicant Persephone by Ivan Mestrovic (1945) in the Shaffer Sculpture Court outside of Bowne Hall. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012. 

In Syracuse these works are among the very best figurative sculptures in a city that boasts an impressive collection of public bronzes. I teach these works in my Holocaust, Memory and the Visual Arts class.  In Paris, however, despite that fact that I was in the midst of exploring the city's commemorative landscape, these works took on - in the context of Rodin's work - a different, but related, meaning.  The anguish expressed by both figures was still powerful, but due to their museum siting it was dissipated.

On the other hand, since the works were in only a stone's throw from Rodin's great group of suffering figures, the Burghers of Calais (Les Bourgeois de Calais), and also of bronzes of all the constituent figures in the that work (the work has been cast twelve times in all, and can be seen in various configurations in different cities), the line from Rodin to Mestrovic was very clear.  The mix of defeat, anguish, anxiety in the posture and gestures of the Burghers of Calais figures, laid over expressions of nobility, made this an exceptional public monument when it was unveiled in 1889 and still today. As with Mestrovic's Job, Rodin's work has inspired any number of subsequent commemorative depictions of victims - especially Holocaust victims.

Paris, France. Musee Rodin.  The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber 2013.

Both the preliminary designs for Job and Persephone express Mestrovic's personal anguish as a prisoner in 1941, when he expected death at the hand of Italian Fascists.  His political stances from the First Wold War period (in defiance of both Austria and Italy) and his refusal in the mid-1930s to accept a Nazi invitation to exhibit his work in Berlin, which Hitler himself would open, made him a persona non grata in occupied Yugoslavia.  Subsequently, these works as executed in bronze have been accepted as larger expressions of pain, remorse and despair in the wake of all the destitution in Europe brought about in World War II.   Mestrovic's first wife Ruza was Jewish and she died in Zagreb in 1942 and at least 30 members of her extended family also died in the Holocaust.  But Mestrovic knew many people - Jews and Christians - in artistic, political and others circles who suffered and died in the war.

Not surprisingly, Mestrovic was not the only artist of the time to use Job as a symbol of the suffering during the war.  Coincidentally, probably the best known painting of the theme, Francis Gruber's Job of 1944 from the Tate Galley in London, is also on view in Paris in the important - though rambling - exhibition L'Art en Guerre: France 1938-1947 on view at the Musée d’Art Moderne (through February 17, 2013).  Gruber (no relation to me) painted his Job for the Salon d'Automne (the so-called Salon of the Liberation) of 1944,  just after the Liberation of Paris.   Gruber's Job is a naked, forlorn and vulnerable man seated on a stool by a broken gate or fence.  According to the Tate online catalogue "Gruber painted this picture ... to symbolise the oppressed peoples who, like Job, had undergone a great ordeal of suffering. The inscription on the paper at which the figure is looking reads: 'Maintenant encore, ma plainte est une révolte, et pourtant ma main comprime mes soupirs'. This is taken from The Book of Job, 23.11"   This Job is essentially passive - there is none of the animal anguish Mestrovic brings to the subject. 

It is significant that Gruber and Mestrovic both chose the figure of Job to channel their fears and faith about World War II and its aftermath.  For Jews and Christians alike, Job was the Biblical figure who embodied universalism.  Rabbis debated who he was, when he lived of if he was real at all.  Many saw him as the archetype Righteous Gentile, others a fictional device for teaching the love and fear of God.   Still, both Jews and Gentiles took him for their own, and his suffering represents the suffering (and hope) of all.  For Christian artists especially Job was an appropriate subject, that could linked to Jewish tradition (and contemporary suffering), but could also be interpreted in many other ways.

Job by Francis Gruber (1912-1948). Tate Museum, London. Photo: Courtesy of the Tate Museum

How did Job and Persephone get to Syracuse?  Mestrovic was born in Croatia in 1883 but by the 1920s he was very popular in the United States, where he had a successful exhibition at Brooklyn Museum in New York in 1924, which led to his commission for giant Indians (Bowman and Spearman) in Chicago,  installed in Grant Park in 1928.  In 1947 Syracuse University Chancellor William P. Tolley arranged for Mestrovic to come and teach at Syracuse University, where he stayed until 1955 before moving on to Notre Dame, where he taught until his death in 1962.  He brought many of his recent and in progress works to Syracuse, where he worked on them, and trained a generation of young sculptors. You can read about Mestrovic at Syracuse here, and in a longer article by David Tatum here.  Notre Dame hold a large collection of Mestrovic papers, the finding aid is here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

George Washington in Paris

Paris, France. George Washington Equestrian Statue at Place d'Iéna by Daniel Chester French (1900). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (Dec. 2012)

George Washington in Paris
by Samuel D. Gruber

I came to Paris and saw old friends - people and monuments.  Americans are common, in flesh and bronze, and their comings and goings over two hundred years can often be traced in the many commemorative plaques one finds attached to buildings walls, and in a series of monumental statues placed around the city, but especially in the 16th arrondissement. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin are fixtures in the neighborhood.

Paris, France. George Washington Equestrian Statue at Place d'Iéna by Daniel Chester French (1900). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (Dec. 2012)

George Washington never came to Paris in his lifetime, but he is here bigger than life dominating two public spaces, and his image can probably be found elsewhere throughout the city.  Once (at the Place d'Iéna) he is carried on a feisty horse, and once (at the Place du Etats-Unis) he carries, together with his bon ami and protege Lafayette the banners of liberty the flags of the United States and France.

Both works are by sculptors well-known to Americans.  The bronze Equestrian Statue of a very marshal George Washington is by Daniel Chester French, known for his monumental Lincoln Memorial statue, and about whose Richard Morris Hunt monument I recently wrote.  The Washington statue was inaugurated July 3, 1900, the gift of a committee of American women. The text of the statue reads: "gift of the women of the United States of America in memory of the brotherly help given by France to their fathers in the fight for Independence."

 At the Place d'Iéna Washington raises his sword - presumably to advance into battle.  But mostly he combats of the thousands of cars that circle past every day.  Fortunately, horse and rider are raised on a high base, so Washington always rises above the fray. 

Paris, France. George Washington Equestrian Statue at Place d'Iéna by Daniel Chester French (1900). Photos: Samuel D. Gruber (Dec. 2012)

Washington and Lafayette are the work of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, creator (with Gustav Eiffel) of the Statue of Liberty.  Apparently newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer was so  impressed by Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty that he commissioned a statue symbolizing French-American friendship to be installed in Paris. It was dedicated in 1895 at the Place des États-Unis (a replica later erected in Manhattan's Morningside Park, New York).  

Here, Washington is in a quieter setting, set upon a green rectangle at one end of the Place des Etats-Unis.  In the center of the long narrow place is a playground, and several other monuments with American associations are place at other parts of the square.  The square is lined with impressive mansions.  Only a short distance from the much busier Place de l'étoile and the Arc de Triomphe

Paris, France. Washington and Lafayette Status by Bartholdi (1895). Photos: Samuel D. Gruber Dec. 2012)

Paris also has a Rue Washington that connects with the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.  It was named after the  American general and president in 1889.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Another Architect Remembered: Andre Le Notre Monument in Paris

Paris, France.  monument to landscape architect André Le Nôtre at the Garden of the tuileries.  Photos: Samuel D. Gruber (2013)

Another Architect Remembered: André Le Nôtre Monument in Paris

by Samuel D. Gruber
I wasn't consciously looking for architect monuments when recently in Paris, but en route to an exhibit at the Orangeries I encountered famed French landscape architect André Le Nôtre (1613-1700) captured in bronze at the edge one of his most trafficked (and much altered) creations, the Gardens of Palais des Tuileries.  This monument can keep company in this blog with that of Richard Morris Hunt in New York, which is fitting, as Hunt most certainly spent time strolling in  Le Notre gardens during the years he spent in France.

Paris, France.  monument to landscape architect André Le Nôtre at the Garden of the tuileries.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2013)

The monument lists André Le Nôtre greatest works.  He Transformed the gardens of the Tuileries Palace, first laid out in the mid 176th century, into a grand formal garden that stretches between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, opened to the public in 1667.  Since the 19th century, it has been a primary place for Parisians to gather to relax and celebrate.  I don't know when this monument was installed near the entrance by the Place de la Concorde, but it appears to be fairly modern.  The bust was clearly made after an earlier sculpted commemorative portrait of Le Notre by Antoine Coysevox.

Paris, France.  Bust of André Le Nôtre from Tuileries monument (photo: Samuel D. Gruber)  and marble bust by Antoine Coysevox reportedly at the church of St. Roch. (Photo:

The park has undergone many transformations and many classically-inspired statues were added throughout the 19th century.  In recent decades more modern works have also been included on both permanent and temporarily basis.

Paris, France. View from near the Le Nôtre monument looking out of the Tuileries Gardens toward Place dfe la Concorde. What would Le Nôtre have thought (and does it matter)?. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2013).